Nadal advances to Madrid quarterfinals

Madrid, May 8 (EFE).- Spain's Rafael Nadal cruised through most of his match Thursday at the Madrid Open but had to fend off a late challenge from Jarkko Nieminen to win 6-1, 6-4 and advance to the quarterfinals.

A day after trouncing his good friend, Argentina's Juan Monaco, 6-1, 6-0, the world No. 1 appeared to be on his way to posting a similar result when he led 6-1, 3-0 against the 32-year-old Finn.

But Nieminen battled back to 4-4 and threatened Nadal's serve in the ninth game before Nadal righted the ship to take the match in one hour and 19 minutes.

Nieminen gave the struggling Nadal the rhythm he needed from the baseline and the Spaniard also managed to generate a higher bounce on his ground strokes and more potency with his serve.

"Getting to 6-1, 3-0, I played at my best level on clay since Monte Carlo," the Spaniard said afterward.

"Then my intensity dropped a little and I made some errors. The key is to find my rhythm and my level. Today I did the things I had to do, although I've got to get a little more consistency."

Next up for Nadal in the quarterfinals will be Czech Tomas Berdych, who rallied Thursday to defeat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The Spaniard has dominated Berdych in recent years but Friday's match could be a good opportunity for the Czech against Nadal, who is still looking for his first semifinal berth in this year's European clay-court season.

Also Thursday, red-hot Japanese Kei Nishikori, winner of last month's Barcelona Open, edged big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) in the round of 16.

In the women's draw, American world No. 1 Serena Williams handily defeated Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-3 Thursday to reach the quarterfinals.

The Madrid Open is one of the biggest clay-court tournaments on the ATP and WTA calendars and a major tune-up for the French Open, which gets underway on May 25.